Two Western Washington hospitals urge tests for HIV, hepatitis after syringe swap

SEATTLE -- Two hospitals in Washington state have urged nearly 1,500 patients to get tested for hepatitis and HIV after a former surgery technician was charged with stealing and swapping a syringe.

Rocky Allen has pleaded not guilty to federal charges that he took a syringe of painkillers and replaced it with one containing another substance at a Colorado hospital. He was arrested in that state last month.

Northwest Hospital and Medical Center in Seattle says the exposure risk is low, but they're testing affected patients to be safe. It notified 1,340 people who had surgery in early 2012 in an operating room where Allen may have worked.

Washington health officials said Wednesday that Allen worked at two other state facilities, including Naval Hospital Bremerton in Kitsap County. Lakewood Surgery Center said it's notifying 135 patients.

Allen was fired this year from a Denver-area hospital, which has offered about 2,900 patients free testing.

Allen's attorney has said Allen suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and he started using drugs after witnessing horrors in Afghanistan.

The Department of Health immediately suspended his credentials. Officials said his credential was expired but that he had recently reapplied.

"At this time, we have no evidence of patient exposure...," the hospital said in a news release. "We believe the risk to patients is extremely low. However, out of an abundance of caution, Northwest Hospital has contacted the approximately 1,340 patients who had surgery at Northwest Hospital from December 30, 2011 to March 9, 2012 in an operating room where the technologist may have worked and asked them to be tested for hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV."

Patients who had surgery at Northwest Hospital between December 30, 2011 and March 9, 2012 are encouraged to call the Northwest Hospital hotline at (206) 368-1002 or toll free at 1-800-695-0654 to receive more information about how they may access free testing.